Photos by Michael Powers
A pair of jersey crop pants bought designer Rachel Pally a house. Specifically,
a pair of crop pants worn by Jessica Simpson from Pally’s spring 2004 line.
One In Style photo later and Pally can’t keep the pants in stock. Over
the past year, her eponymous women’s wear line has gone from being carried in
20 stores to more than 200.
Of course along with the orders come the knockoffs. High-end or low, Pally sees
imitations everywhere — at least 10 times a day. She doesn’t care so much when
Rampage or Forever 21 does it. The teen girls who shop at those stores shouldn’t
be spending nearly $200 for a pair of pants anyway, she says, nor should their
parents. Chalk up that sentiment to growing up with hippie parents in Sherman
Oaks. But it really pisses her off when a company in her price range does it.
“It’s one thing to reinterpret a Moschino dress and sell it for $180 in different
fabric with different prints without the bells and whistles, but it’s a completely
different story to knock off someone who is in your price point, who is in the
same city, who is in the same boat as you. That bothers me.”
Although Pally never set out to be a designer — she was inspired to study city
planning at UC Berkeley by an uncle who commissions public art for cities —
she’s managed to turn her company into a multimillion-dollar business in three
years. After starting with $300 right out of college. No job experience. Never
borrowed a penny from anybody. Well, her folks did let her use space in their
house for storage. And it’s all happening so fast that, holy shit, she’s still
catching up with it, delighted that she can work at home, doing something people
love, working for herself, making her parents proud.
It would be easy to envy Pally her rag-trade-to-riches rise, but she’s got this
way of being so disarmingly direct, where she can say, “I love food and I’m
not about to watch what I eat so I can fit into a size 26 jean — I don’t wear
jeans anymore,” and you know that she means it. No airs, no coyness. Pragmatic.
And charmingly confident.
She approaches her design in the same way. She’s not trying to make a big statement,
revolutionize fashion. Her clothes are simple: always jersey, tops that can
be worn as bottoms, skirts as dresses. Think Units. Spring ’06 works with Fall
’04, or a chiffon top already in your closet, and everything works with the
shoes you already own. Comfort rules. And she knows her clothes don’t look good
on the hanger. But then, it’s all about how they look on a woman’s body — every
type of body, every age. Her clothes are most decidedly not just for the cellulite-unchallenged.
Being a curvy girl growing up influenced her.
“I make sure with every single collection there is something for every woman.
Is there something for Grandma? For a heavier woman? A 14-year-old girl to wear
to her dance at school? I cut and recut and recut the simplest little thing
until I know it’s going to fit. I try them on different people before it goes
into the collection. That’s what I have going for me.”
Dance got Pally into design. As part of her course work in pursuing a dance
minor at Berkeley, she had to either work in set or costume design. She chose
costumes — out of duty to all those women in the program stuck in unitards.
But a weekend job for designer Claire Blaydon while spending a summer dancing
at the Martha Graham School in New York got Pally tinkering with a sewing machine.
The shop wasn’t busy, so she started transforming odds and ends picked up on
forays around the Lower East Side into clothes that she sneaked onto the racks
— and which sold.
When she returned to Los Angeles that summer, her parents bought her a sewing
machine for her birthday and she started making clothes for herself and friends.
She wore a dress she’d made into Sling Ting, a now-defunct store in Chinatown,
back when Chung King Road was on the way up, and owner Stacy Ernsdorf flipped
— especially after she saw some of the other pieces Pally had made, which she
hauled in from her dirty laundry basket in the car. The two struck a deal: Pally
would make a piece a week to sell at Sling Ting during her senior year. By the
time she graduated, she knew she wanted to give design a shot.
“It’s important to me that I keep the L.A. base. No matter how big the company
gets, I’ll never allow it to outsource. I do everything here. My fabric is produced
here and my production is here. It’s very important to me and my hippie parents
that everything is local. This is my hometown, this is something I should be
contributing to, this is the city I work in, live in. My roots are here.”
Rachel Pally is available at Patty Faye, 2910 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake,
(323) 667-1954; The Kids Are Alright, 2201 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 413-4014;
Yellow, 605 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 525-0362; Madison, 113 S. Robertson Blvd.,
(310) 275-1930; Madison at Brentwood Gardens, 11677 San Vicente Blvd., No. 104,
(310) 820-2300; Nordstrom at the Grove, Westside Pavilion and Topanga Plaza;
Photographs by Michael Powers
Model: Mia Weier (Ford)
Hair & Makeup: Caprice Gray (MK Artists)
All clothes are Modal Jersey; all jewelry from the collection of Rachel Pally
except for jewelry by Ahimsa in photo of hot pink ruffle dress.